Going beyond linkbait – why you need good, original content

Content link baitLast week, I read an article in Mediaweek that warmed my heart. The title? “Marketer Must-Have: Original Web Editorial.” The article profiled how AT&T hired an outside firm to create value-added content that’s “something of value and more than just an advertising message.” Why? Because they realized, according to the article, “Search and social media are the main modes of information discovery, and both engines live off vast pools of content.”

Yes, yes, yes!

To that I say two things: Hear hear, and what the hell took you so long?

Original content provides companies an incredible opportunity to provide value to their readers, connect with their customers – and yes, get more search rankings for more keywords. Zappos is an excellent example of a site with fantastic content – product pages, blog posts, articles – even Tweets.

At the same time, there are some misconceptions about what “original content” can mean. Here are some things to think about when you’re planning your SEO content marketing campaign:

Know your audience and write for them. One of the first questions I’ll ask a prospect is “what is your customer persona?” About 75% of the time, the response is “what’s a customer persona?” The first step in any content marketing campaign – which includes your SEO copywriting campaign – is to focus on who you’re writing your copy for. Is it a middle-aged woman in the Midwest who loves domestic travel, Dancing With The Stars and Oprah magazine? A single male city dweller who lives in a condo, digs the latest electronics and eats out every meal? These nuances are important. How you write what you write is just as important as what you write. If you miss the customer persona boat and write general copy, you’ll see general (read: so-so) conversion results.

Beware the cognitive trap that controversial “linkbait” equals quality content. I think the term “linkbait” is an unfortunate one, as it implies “baiting” a site to link to yours. Listen, quality content is quality content. Thinking of terms of “what content will drive the most links and stir up the most controversy” is a short-sighted strategy that ignores other forms of useful content. For instance, should you not include a FAQ page about your product because it’s not a good “linkbait” article? It sounds ridiculous to read – but this is something I hear about every day.

I am the first to admit that some of my more controversial posts are my most popular. At the same time, I hear clients wanting to create nothing but snarky content, believing that controversy is what gets viral link love and makes sales. Yes, if you are passionate about a topic, by all means, let it fly. A good example is Amy Africa’s discussion of the Gerry Pike/DMA controversy. But if your blog is filled with rants, slams and sexy headlines with no content, you’ll lose your readership – or cause them to rail against you. If you must rant, rant responsibly – and make sure that your content marketing strategy encompasses all sorts of content.

Good content means a good content marketing strategy. It’s tempting to read the Mediaweek article and think, “By gum, I need to kick out a bunch of articles.” And that’s half right. The other missing element is how those articles (or blog posts, or Tweets) fold back into your content marketing strategy. And on a broader scale, how your writing dovetails with your television ad spots, radio ads, Yellow Page ad and newspaper/magazine display ads (yes, people still do advertise in newspapers!). Your content strategy gives you a roadmap so you know exactly what to write, who you’re writing it for, and how the writing integrates with the rest of your site and your overarching marketing strategy. If you’re kicking out “onesie twosie” articles in an attempt to halfheartedly gain search rankings and build buzz, you’re not leveraging what you can leverage. Good planning = better search rankings, better conversions and a better connection with your customers.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?